The title of my post today was inspired by one of my favorite Viking films of all time, The 13th Warrior (1999). The words were spoken by Helfdane the Mighty upon realizing he was mortally wounded and would not survive to see another sunrise. I always found that line and scene to be very powerful, working on many levels. I think of it often, but never more than on June 1st.
Today opens the month that traditionally brings the summer, graduations, vacations and weddings. All of those things emanate images of fun, frolic and happy times. But they also indicate major changes and, in many cases, a totally new direction away from a past that can never be retrieved. We all experience days and events that, while positive, also indicate irrevocable change. Of the handful of days that I recall which forever changed my life, one that always brings a smile and a tear is June 1st.
1 June 1980 … 32-years ago today … was that once in a lifetime moment involving graduating from college. It was a double whammy for me. I was also commissioned a 2LT, US Army, Military Intelligence on the same day.
No doubt it was a time of great celebration, a triumph for the ages. And it was the same for all the other cadets who walked across that commissioning stage a student with potential and emerged on the other side as a soldier or marine ready to make a stand for the US Constitution at any cost. Childhood was gone forever. The time for thinking as a child had come to an end. Mom and Dad had done all they could do … time to do for yourself now. It was a good day … but it was a scary day, too!
The world of 1 June 1980 was another lifetime ago. Jimmy Carter was President and the crisis with the American hostages in Iran threatened war in the Middle East. All the senior NCOs and officers in the military were veterans of Vietnam (including our retiring commandant, Colonel Ben Purcell). All of us who took our oaths that day fully expected to one day face the threat of the USSR along the Fulda Gap in Eastern Europe. Or stare down Red China and Kim IL Sung along the 38th Parallel in Korea. Or quell communist uprisings in El Salvador or Nicaragua.
In those days, terrorists were white and came from East Germany or the Ukraine. Planes were not attacked … they were hijacked and flown to Cuba. Iraq was an ally simply because they were enemies with Iran. We were young … strong … invincible. “Like a rock,” Bob Seger would say.
It was one of those moments that we knew was good while it was happening and we held on to it knowing it could not last. And it didn’t. Loved ones waved good-bye and we marched away with our diplomas and military reporting orders in hand. And as we waved back, we said good-bye to yesterday, knowing that our lives were changed forever. It was a good day … a very good day.
For me, just like it was for most of us, the days … years … ahead carried their fair share of good and bad. Many who shared the spotlight with me that day are no longer with us. Some I barely knew. Others left a hole in their passing the size of the Grand Canyon.
But for one shining moment, they joined me in an event that forever changed my life in a way I could not fully comprehend at the time. The next 26+ years would find me galloping all over the globe, going where the Army sent me and watching everything I thought would happen change completely from what I’d anticipated. It was the start of a ride that’s still speeding ahead at warp speed with no sign of slowing down. I wouldn’t change a moment of any of it.
But I always stop for a moment to think about it this time each year. I think of all the thousands … millions … of young people around the globe whose lives are about to change forever with that MAJOR leap from childhood to adulthood. And just like me, they’ll take a long, wistful look back at where they came from. Eventually, they will realize the place they left no longer exists. And with a sigh of grim exuberance, they’ll face front and head into an uncertain future … secure that whatever tomorrow might be, it will be because they WILLED it to be so.
Today is 1 June. It’s an important day to me. It’s a reliable reminder of a day of long ago that I will never forget. It was a good day … a VERY good day!
Oh that a man might know how a day would end ‘ere it come. Yet he does not, and so the day must end and only then shall its ending be known. Farewell friends. And if our paths should cross again then we will smile. And if not? Then today’s ending was well made. William Shakespeare, “JULIUS CAESAR”